In the most memorable, and even notorious, of Tissot’s images, Christ looks out at the crowd of spectators arrayed before him: Mary Magdalene, in the immediate foreground, with her long red tresses swirling down her back, kneels at his feet, which are clearly visible at the bottom center of the composition. Beyond her, the Virgin Mary clutches her breast, while John the Evangelist looks up with hands clasped.
The artist here adopts the point of view of Christ himself. Few painters have conceived a composition this daring. In his audacity, however, Tissot remains true to his artistic vision: ultimately, the image is an exercise in empathy. Its point is to give viewers, accustomed to looking at the event from the outside, a rare opportunity to imagine themselves in Christ’s place and consider his final thoughts and feelings as he gazed on the enemies and friends who were witnessing, or participating in, his death.
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James Tissot (French, 1836-1902). What Our Lord Saw from the Cross (Ce que voyait Notre-Seigneur sur la Croix), 1886-1894. Opaque watercolor over graphite on gray-green wove paper, Image: 9 3/4 x 9 1/16 in. (24.8 x 23 cm). Brooklyn Museum, Purchased by public subscription, 00.159.299
Purchased by public subscription
Image: 9 3/4 x 9 1/16 in. (24.8 x 23 cm); Sheet: 9 3/4 x 9 1/16 in. (24.8 x 23 cm)